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JCDA hoping to get Washington County on board for TIF program

BEN INGRAM • Feb 3, 2007 at 10:09 AM

JOHNSON CITY - The Johnson City Development Authority's executive director is hoping a fourth and final presentation on tax increment financing will persuade Washington County commissioners to get on board for a program that calls for the redevelopment of 1,700 parcels of land in downtown Johnson City.

Bridgett Massengill will present the TIF program during a workshop with commissioners Monday, where they also will be asked to rescind their vote to place a referendum on a $25 wheel tax on the April election ballot.

"I really hope (the commission gets involved)," said Massengill, who felt that a recent presentation to the City/County Liaison Committee yielded positive feedback.

"I felt that there were good questions asked about where the county's dollars were going. I think that most of the questions had to do with clarification matters."

Massengill said she felt that the 1,700 parcels also were a stumbling point for commissioners.

"The point we want to make is that some of those parcels are one on top of another," she said. "There could be 14 parcels in one building. The way that the plan is compacted makes it seem big."

The redevelopment district makes up about $58 million of total property taxes collected by the city and county according to 2003-04 figures and makes up less than 1 percent of land acreage in the county compared to 2.2 percent in the city.

In a TIF program, property taxes are set on the assessed value of a property. Then, with any improvements made over the years, the extra taxes collected above the base level are put into a fund managed by the development authority and invested into the revitalization of downtown Johnson City.

Commissioners tabled a motion in December which would have included the county in the JCDA's redevelopment plan, citing a lack of information.

County Attorney John Rambo was asked how the county's involvement in the program would effect future tax increases and if the county could get out of the program in the future.

"Any tax increases used to pay for the county's debt would not be affected," Rambo said.

"Essentially, (Johnson City's) attorney and I agreed that we could come up with some kind of agreement that would enable the county" to opt out of the program in the future.

In December, Rambo told commissioners that an interlocal agreement would best preserve the county's flexibility if at some point they chose not to participate in the TIF program.

Washington County Mayor George Jaynes will ask commissioners to rescind their vote on the wheel tax referendum. The turnaround is due primarily to a $100,000 price tag the referendum would carry.

Jaynes said recently it would be a waste of money to put a referendum on the ballot worded the way it was.

"The way it is worded wouldn't include the additional 8 cents on the property tax that would accompany the wheel tax," Jaynes said. "No one's going to vote on something that doesn't say that they would also be saving on the property tax end."

The county is seeking a way to pay for building projects that will cost $135,690,000. The projects include construction of two new elementary schools, renovating two high schools, building a justice center and expanding the Washington County Detention Center.

Other ways, some of which have already been voted on, to pay back the bonds include:

•Imposing a $25 wheel tax and an 8-cent property tax increase, which was previously voted down by the commission 16-9.

•Increasing the sales tax by one-fourth cent, which was defeated by a 20-5 margin.

•Increasing the property tax 18 cents.

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